Idaho's Proposed Abortion Ban Lets Rapists' Families Profit Off Bounties

“If I have an abortion, it is no business of my brother, my brother-in-law, his wife or anyone else in my family,” a Democratic state lawmaker said.

An Idaho bill that would allow a pregnant woman’s family members to sue abortion providers also includes a controversial twist. It would allow a rapist’s family members to sue the victim’s doctor under the same proposal, the legislation’s Republican sponsor confirmed this week.

The Idaho bill, S.B. 1309, is modeled after Texas’ 6-week abortion ban that went into effect in September. It’s different, however, in that it limits who can sue once a woman obtains an abortion. Under the Idaho law, abortion providers can be sued by the patient, the father of a fetus or their family members.

The bill does include an exception for rape or incest, although it forces women to file a police report and provide it to a physician. If a woman fails to do so before an abortion, the rapist’s family members could sue and collect damages.

Damages start at $20,000, raising concerns a patient’s abortion could allow others to greatly profit off the bounties. The bill is broad enough that abortion advocates worry it will effectively ban abortion in the state at around 6 weeks when many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant.

State Rep. Lauren Necochea (D), who described the bill as the most “extreme assault on reproductive rights” the state had seen in decades, clarified the extreme nature of the proposal with State Rep. Steven Harris (R), the bill’s sponsor, before the vote this week, asking what legal rights the family of a rapist would have.

“If I am raped and choose to have an abortion and my rapist has 10 siblings, is there anything to preclude all of them and their spouses from bringing a lawsuit for $20,000 each,” Necochea asked on the Idaho House floor.

“I’m not sure their spouses are included in that list,” Harris replied, “But no.”

“If I have an abortion, it is no business of my brother, my brother-in-law, his wife or anyone else in my family,” Necochea said, adding that it could turn family members into “potential enemies.” “Its impacts are cruel, and it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Idaho’s chief deputy attorney general, Brian Kane, also wrote in a recent legal opinion that the bill likely violates Idahoans constitutional right to an abortion, noting that the enforcement provision could violate the state’s own separation of powers clause of the Idaho Constitution.

Women’s right advocates said the Idaho bill would likely disproportionately impact poor people, people of color and Idahoans who live in rural areas.

The Idaho House of Representatives passed the bill on Monday night in a 51 to 14 vote, weeks after the state Senate did the same. Republican Gov. Brad Little is expected to sign it into law, and it could go into effect sometime in April. That timeline is months before the Supreme Court is set to decide a case on its docket that threatens the constitutional right to an abortion.

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